I recently watched The Persuaders, a PBS Frontline documentary about the public relations and advertising industries. The piece was made in 2004, so I was originally skeptical of its relevance, but the ideas that it explores are applicable to today. I enjoyed watching the documentary and thinking through what it said about the state of media, public relations, and advertising.

The producer of The Persuaders seemed to be skeptical of advertising and public relations. In the interviews in the documentary, the professionals in those industries came across as manipulative and self-serving. They wanted to make money by selling people things they didn’t need.

However, the industry professionals wouldn’t describe themselves that way. They would describe themselves as anticipating consumers’ needs and giving them things they didn’t even know they wanted yet.

Whether you see them as the producers saw them or as they saw themselves, one thing is clear: they viewed humanity through the lens of a transmission model of communication. The industry professionals seemed to view people as animals that respond to stimuli.

I see communication with the cultural view, so I think that human communication is more complex than that. The professionals in the documentary looked at the world through too much of a reductionist lens.

As for my background, I have taken some marketing and public relations classes, and I interned at a public relations firm. People whom I’ve met in the industry have described themselves as marketing communications professionals. I have never had any experience directly with advertising. I’m still in the process of figuring out where to draw the line between marketing and advertising.

What do you think? Are public relations, marketing, and advertising different?



Living in a mean world

There’s no denying that violence and negativity pervade TV, movies, and countless other forms of media. For a long time, I thought that media violence would make people more violent. You might think that, too. However, I encountered a theory that made me think about the effects of media violence in a new way.

After decades of research, University of Pennsylvania communication scholar George Gerbner discovered that media violence makes people more fearful of being the victims of violence instead of making them more likely to commit violent acts.

Gerbner’s theory is called the “mean world syndrome.” People who consume more than four hours of TV a day are more likely to think of the world as more dangerous than it actually it is. I can understand that. If you consume negativity, you’re going to think more negatively about others and the world.

I don’t know if Gerbner’s concepts of the mean world apply to my experience with the media. When I was growing up, my family watched the news to know what was going on, but we didn’t watch it regularly or for hours at a shot. The way my family uses media hasn’t really changed over time. My dad enjoys sports programs, and my mom and I love British murder mysteries. There are a few shows, such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, that we all watch together when I’m home from college.

When I’m at college, I watch less TV because I don’t have cable. I keep up with This is Us and a few British shows online, but that’s about it. My friends and I watch a lot of movies together. They range from Captain America: Civil War and Hacksaw Ridge to 10 Things I Hate About You. As you can see, our collective taste is all over the place.

There’s more violence in the media I consume at college than in the media I consume at home, but I don’t really think about it or notice it. Perhaps the violence in the media I consume could make me think negatively about the world, but I don’t think I consume enough of it to notice any real effects on my behavior.

How about you? Do Gerbner’s ideas about the mean world resonate with your media experiences?